The tales of Ovid are a theme that suits
The Prince, but will not do for your repute.
Avoid lust.  Clients of the better kind
Desire the tales that beautify the mind.
You may display the human flesh with taste
Discreetly in the hands and face.  Be chaste:
Show in your theme what suits the moral best;
Put in the good and true, leave out the rest.
And yet, even the clergy like their jewels
To glister Heaven and to glimmer Hell,
And every congregation comes to see
Angels above when they are on their knees.
Put in the awe invention can devise
For art should be a feast for human eyes.



Allow the man to know the ecstasy,
Let him participate in what he sees,
Incise the swollen tongue to make him feel
The taste of agony: Make it real.
Press in the broken skin, paint on the white
Of eyes the drops that glisten and excite
The senses of the man; draw out the knife
With precision to lend the martyr life.
Overflow the canvas, make the picture breathe
With color and with light, show all things seeth-
Ing, swelling, feeling force of the divine
Presence of our God.  Make your painting shine
And shimmer, draw him upward heavenly
To let him be the picture: Make him see.



Seek in your art the grandeur of the Greek,
The noble calm, the sweet simplicity.
Question Nature, conceive Her, look beyond
Into Platonic Forms, hold them, respond
With measured lines determined logically,
Like angels sing, purely and exactly.
Balance the essences, leave out the rest,
Choose for your model summits of the best.
Restrain your brushes and confine your hues
To form an object of abiding truth—
That skill of art which is most rarely won
Is found in things lavishly underdone.
Think to know and know then what to feel.
The greatest art is art which is ideal.



All men and nations move, as move they will
Compelled by storms some purpose to fulfill;
Never knowing where they go, nor why;
They live, they do some things and then they die.
The artist stands apart, he stands alone:
Seas swirl, leaves blow, he keeps his place like stone,
Some great stone standing buffeted by waves,
He and his thoughts heroic hold their place.
He looks into the tempest’s wild rage
Calm and sure, the Caesar of his age
He marshals men unborn to do his will,
Time breaks, reforms, his purpose to fulfill.
Like Nature to its functions, God in awe,
The feeling of the artist is the law.



The essence of the line restricts, contracts,
It is by nature a defining act.
The line contains an image in the past,
It draws us back, it binds, it holds us fast.
The vastness of the brain will set you free,
Just close your eyes and let the painting be;
Be free of concepts, free of old régimes;
Let go your will, allow the brush to dream.
Yet master, line can hold a thing in place;
What harm will happen to an unlined face?
If we erase, what horrors might we reap?
Monsters will roam the earth when reason sleeps.
If we by breaking lines break with the past,
What law of art allows an art to last?



Michael Curtis has 40 years of professional experience in architecture, sculpture, and painting.  He has taught and lectured at universities, colleges, and museums including The Institute of Classical Architecture, The National Gallery of Art, et cetera.  His paintings and sculptures are featured in over 300 private collections; his many public statues can be found in The Library of Congress, The Supreme Court, other public buildings and squares.  Professional experiences include Archivist of State Art (Michigan); guest curator, The Detroit Institute of Art; founder of art galleries; widely published poet; founding director of The National Civic Art Society, et cetera.

Featured Image: Athena Statue outside Athens University, by Leonidas Drosis

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